Kuala Kangsar is the royal town of Perak, Malaysia, located at the downstream of Kangsar River, where it flows into the Perak River. The Sultan of Perak officially resides in Kuala Kangsar, and it has been Perak's royal seat since the 18th century. The town is a well preserved, where its serenity and its well-maintained old palaces are worth a visit.
Two bridges now connect Kuala Kangsar to Sayong. Sultan Abdul Jalil Shah Bridge is made out of concrete and is located near the town while Sultan Iskandar Bridge is farther upstream and is made out of steel. Kuala Kangsar is easily accessible via the North-South Expressway and by train. Sayong is a small village. It is famous for a traditional craft known as Labu Sayong, earthenware, gourd-shaped jars for keeping drinking water cool.
Kuala must have had a strange effect on Sultan Yusuf Sharifuddin Mudzaffar Shah of Perak who ruled from 1877 to 1887. Unlike many rulers who protected their royal palaces and strongholds by selecting their vantage points carefully where they could detect enemy approach from afar, the Sultan had his first royal palace built beside the riverbank. He then named it 'Istana Sri Sayong'.
Apart from being exposed to the impending threat of invasion, the other problem was the force of monsoon seasons, which led to numerous flooding as water gushed down from the jungles above through the many tributaries. One flooding was so severe, it almost swept the palace away.
Finally, after the Big Flood or Air Bah in 1926,
they decided to move the place further up on a hill, where stands the current Royal Palace named Istana Iskandariah with its Art-Deco architecture, a rare but significant piece of architectural milestone in Malaysia.
The town is also the site of the first rubber tree planted in Malaysia. The person responsible was the English botanist Henry Nicholas Ridley. He was the one who helped Malaya and eventually Malaysia become the largest rubber producer in the world. The first tree still stands today in Kangsar. It's located just outside the Sultan Azlan Shah Museum. It's not a big tree, but a significant tree that changed the course of Malaysia's economy in the early 1900's.
In the old part of Kuala Kangsar however, the roads are narrow and pleasant and great for a stroll as it winds round the grassy hill. One of the more dominant architecture during the colonial era in the area is the Ubudiah Mosque. Sultan Idris, (1887 - 1916) the ruler then and a close friend of the British resident, Sir Hugh Low, laid the foundation of the mosque in 1913. Unfortunately, the mosque's completion was delayed due to World War 1 and an incident that involved a couple of royal elephants who ran amok in the grounds, ruining the especially imported Italian marbled floor. Sultan Idris' successor, Sultan Abdul Jalil officiated this Moorish-styled mosque for it was only completed a year after his death. Beside the mosque is the royal mausoleum, the resting place of Perak rulers since the mid-18th century.
Just a short walk from the mosque is another palace, one that truly represents traditional Malay architecture. Also known as Istana Lembah or Istana Tepas, this palace is home to the Royal Museum of Perak for the moment and is open to public everyday from 9.30am - 5.00pm. Fridays closed from 12.15pm - 2.45pm for prayers.
It was planned and built in 1926 after the great floods of 1926. Shaped like a sword, the entire palace was built without a blueprint and not a single nail was used. The walls are made of woven sliced bamboo, and patterned in diamond motifs called the 'kelarai'. The roof is in the shape of the 5 ridges of a traditional Malay house and the ridge of a row of bananas - known as 'perabung 5 and perabung pisang sesikat'. The palace was completed in 1931 and set up as a temporary residence for Sultan Iskandar Shah (1918 - 1938, the 30th Sultan of Perak) while the original royal palace or istana negara was being torn down for the new Istana Iskandariah.